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How to be a better board gamer (For newbies)

Some of us are terrible at board games, here are a few tips in how not suck as much.

Losing against your mates in every board game you've played is not only frustrating, but it can drive anyone to throwing cards, breaking boards - or the classic - table flipping. But fear not, grasshopper, this guide shall help you become a board game wizard yet.

I can't teach you how to think faster, how to make leaps of intuition, or how to play dirty - all that will come in time. Instead, I can show you a few basic tips that can help make winning board games more probable in the future.

1) Learn the rules

This sounds as stupid as dirt. You hear the rules the second you sit down to play, don't you? But you really don't.

Mostly players just skim over them or try to understand them in ten seconds flat, and a lot of games just don't work like that. You'll miss key things, important nuances that will cost you the game. Small things like, you can exchange cards, you can bid on other player's buildings, you can move an extra space if you are in a red square.

Knowing the basics will help you devise better strategies as well. If you don't understand the rules your strategy won't be valid and you'll be left feeling like a right dip-shit. Anything that can give you an edge will be in that rule book - so learn it.

It can be tiring to try and teach three, four, or even eight people how to play a game, but that's just part of being a board gamer. Be patient and teach or learn the game as best you can, you can't go wrong with the basics.

2) Pay attention

Watch what other people are doing, you'll figure out their strategy, their goals, and how to stop them before they can achieve this.

By listening to other players, and watching them make mistakes, you will be learning as well. Don't zone out, don't start playing with your iPhone, don't fiddle with your cards. If you want to win, bloody well listen to what is going on - you need to know what others are doing if you want to have a chance in hell.

A great way to teach this is to play a game like Discworld or Spyfall - or really any hidden role game. If you have to guess someones agenda, you will be paying attention.

3) Get good at basic math

Making quick, small calculations can sometimes be the deciding factor for your next move - particularly in Euro-games and war games, and especially if you're terrible at board games. In games where numbers are important - like Monopoly - you need to be able to make small calculations to figure out who is winning, what is the best buy, and what move to make next.

Learn basic math, it will save your game one day.

4) Play gateway games first

A gateway game is a game used to help non-gamers get into gaming. They are easy to learn, usually quick to play, and a lot of fun!

Simpler games don't equal bad games. King of Tokyo, Bonanza, Pandemic, Shadows Over Camelot, Android: Netrunner and Ticket to Ride, are great examples of simplistic games that are downright kick ass.

By playing simpler games first you are getting used to learning and playing board games as a whole. Not only that but you are exposing yourself to a tonne of different game mechanisms, like bidding, card-play, bluffing, drafting, worker placement or resource management. The more you understand these types of mechanisms the easier it will be to play them in bigger games, and you'll get pretty good at combining them in strategy.

The more complicated the game, the more you need to remember and understand, and the less chance you have of winning. 

EXTRA TIP: Single-player games can teach you to think at your own pace and slowly build up your thinking cap speed. Don't feel silly about playing games alone, it can be a godsend to understanding cards and concepts in any game.

5) Read your cards

For the love of Natural Criticals, read the damned cards. And if you don't understand, ask. Understanding what is in front of you will decide if you lose or win, there is no two ways about it. Take the time to read them carefully, make mental notes, and combine the ones you think will work best. In games like Summoner Wars of Smash up! It is is imperative that you understand what you are doing before you, you know - do something.

It's amazing how far you can get by just reading the text, and actually looking at the card symbols. Try playing with a few blind Magic the Gathering decks, that should get you into the habit of reading before playing anything.

6) Look up strategies on the Internet

This is considered a bit dickish in most cases, but if you're desperate - and you've played the game at least a few times before - then this can be your last resort.

There are a few places where you can look for strategies, Board Game Geek should be a good start, and there are tonnes of YouTube channels that can help as well - but try not to be that guy.

Learning strategies for a first time game is usually done by people who want to win all the time - aka sore winners. Most people don't want to play with these types of players. They spoil the game, and usually turn everyone against each other (or against him) and the game night quickly derails into shouting matches.

By all means, if you've played a few times and you're struggling, look up a couple of strategies, but let your friends know you've done so. It's a board game, not war.

7) If all else fails, throw in the towel and just have fun.

Sometimes winning just isn't possible, bad dice rolls, bad card picks or bad players can just make it senseless to try. When that happens, take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy the game for what it is - it won't do you any good beating your head against the table for the remainder of the game.

Even if you lose, you'll still learn a lot from that play-through, take what you've learned and apply it to the next game. Don't give up, and don't let negative emotions cloud your judgement.

At the end of the day, board games are there to have fun, win or lose you'll have some great experiences along the way - so don't get upset! If you're playing to win, the loss will hit you that much harder, if you play to play the win will be that much sweeter.

Now go win some games and have fun doing it!

Published Jul. 8th 2016

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